The dog days of ... the school year? Aevidum aims to bring facility dog to L-S

Image of a facility dog
courtesy of  Keystone Human Services
Dogs have a reputation for being a man’s best friend; members of Lampeter-Strasburg’s Aevidum club hope a dog will soon be students’ best friend at the high school.

Schools have found that having a dog constantly available allows teachers and staff members to better meet students' needs, keep them safer, and ease difficult situations, including standardized tests, final exams, and extracurricular concerns.

Aevidum club members recently began a fundraising campaign to purchase the dog, utilizing outlets such as Isaac’s and Chick-Fil-A, a GoFundMe page, and, most noticeably to high school students, "juke box days" and a bake sale in the cafeteria. Presently, the club is selling t-shirts with a dog emblazoned on the front.

The goal is lofty: the club hopes to raise $3,000 to cover the costs of purchasing and caring for the dog. Thus far, they have raised about $1,000, according to club treasurer Kelly Harnish.

Once the dog arrives, teachers would be able to sign up to have it in their classes.
"[The dog] will have a schedule of where it goes, in the school and in the district. It will spend a lot of time with the guidance counselor, but teachers can schedule it for their class," explains Harnish.

Some teachers are optimistic about the prospect of canine company in their classrooms.

"Would I use a service dog? D.U.H.," says Mr. Esh.

Ms. Allen-Gordon is less emphatic and more nuanced.

"I could [see] myself using the dog -- for sure! It’s a living thing -- and I teach English -- where we ruminate constantly on big life questions. But I could only do that if all of my students had no reservations on it. Even one naysayer would mean a no go," she says.

She feels there are many important unanswered questions at this point.

"When, and where the dog will be housed?" she wonders. "How will [its] use be implemented? What will we do about ongoing vet and food bills? What about kids with dog fears and allergies?"

Katelynn Gebhart, Aevidum co-president, understands that many people have valid concerns, among them allergies. In her mind, though, the positives outweigh the potential negatives.

"I am a very stressed person, like all the time," she explains. "I know on test days I do things to calm down like wear a specific sweater or shoes in order to be comfortable and alleviate stress. If this dog can help others to alleviate stress, then I think it is a great idea."

Harnish concurs.

"I love dogs, and this is just awesome. There are so many studies for the relaxation and helping from service dogs, and it would be so cool to have a dog in school," she says.

The dog will be a labrador retriever, a breed that is not hypoallergenic. Ms. Kristin Glass, school psychologist and Aevidum co-advisor, says the school will need to carefully evaluate "what type of precautions we need to put into place to keep all students safe and comfortable", and that it will coordinate with Mrs. Book, school nurse, to accommodate students who may have allergies.

In addition to helping calm students at L-S High School, opportunities potentially exist for the dog to go to other schools both within and outside of the district.

"Well Aevidum's motto is "I've got your back", so by taking the dog to other schools when they have troubles, then we have their back, in a sense," says Gebhart.

Harnish expounds, "Outside the high school, it would need to be with a primary handler, but we could take it pretty much anywhere."

Logistically, the dog would reside with assistant principal Mr. Feeney, and come to school every day with him. He, Glass, and learning support teacher Ms. Boone would be the dog’s primary handlers after completing what Glass described as a "rigorous" two-week training.

Interested teachers could train to be secondary handlers, which would allow them to have the dog in class without one of the aforementioned trio present.

Glass and Feeney have already visited another school that has a facility dog to examine their usage, and are confident in their ability to implement one at L-S. Thereafter, the pair as well as several Aevidum students met with school administrators including superintendent Dr. Kevin Peart, assistant superintendent Dr. Andrew Godfrey, principal Mr. Eric Spencer, and members of the L-S school board.

Glass noted that a goal of the school district this year has been to support students’ non-academic needs, and that having a facility dog is a huge step in that process.

Although certainly optimistic about its ultimate success, Harnish and Gebhart acknowledge that they are in the early stages of the process -- it may be early 2016 until the dog arrives.

Moreover, they acknowledge not everyone shares their optimism. In fact, they acknowledge some find the concept of getting a dog "stupid."

"I think that sometimes people have issues dealing with something new. While it may seems stupid, the motivation behind it is sound and I think that they need to understand that while they might not feel it necessary, some students do," says Gebhart. "While they might not like it, they can at least try to better understand the purpose for it."
Susquehanna Service Dogs, the entity from which L-S will receive the facility dog
Harnish notes that when a dog from Susquehanna Service Dogs -- the agency from which L-S will receive the dog -- visited the cafeteria with a dog last week, she saw skeptics turn into supporters of the idea.

“It will be difficult until the dog actually gets here to tell how everything will work,” she says. “If students think it is stupid, then they shouldn't pet the dog when it comes … they should hold their judgement until it arrives.”

Special thanks to former Limelight editor David P.Griffith for his advice on the development of this story and assistance in gathering quotes, and to LSNews.org advisor Mr. Adam Zurn for his background research on this story. Editor’s note: As interviews for this story occurred electronically, interviewees gave the editorial staff permission to correct typographical errors.

-- Benjamin Pontz, Limelight Editor-in-Chief

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